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Equities in Asia have sold off as haven investments rose after the US launched a military strike against Syria in response to a gas attack there this week that claimed the lives of more than 70 people.

Investor sentiment turned decidedly bearish as news broke that two US navy ships in the Mediterranean had fired more than 50 Tomahawk missiles against a target inside Syria.

Rex Tillerson, the US secretary of state, said the Trump administration no longer believed that Bashar al-Assad could remain as the leader in Syria and there was “no doubt” the Syrian president and his regime were behind this week’s gas attack.

Mr Tillerson’s comments followed the arrival of Xi Jinping, China’s president, at an airport in Florida for a summit with Donald Trump.

Traditional havens, such as gold, government bonds and the Japanese yen roared higher, while equities sold off.

Japan’s benchmark Topix was up 0.2 per cent, but swung from a gain of as much as 1.2 per cent to a decline of 0.1 per cent, hampered by the change in investor sentiment as well as the strengthening of the yen, which hurts exporters.

Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 was down 0.3 per cent, a reversal from a gain of as much as 0.6 per cent, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng was down 0.9 per cent. China’s Shanghai Composite was up less than 0.1 per cent at a four-month high.

Futures tipped the S&P 500 to open 0.3 per cent lower on Friday ahead of the release of closely-watched US employment data.

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